Skip Navigation and Jump to Page Content    The Library of Congress >> American Folklife Center  
Veterans History Project (Library of Congress) ABOUT  
SEARCH/BROWSE  
HELP  
COPYRIGHT  
Home » Text Transcript

Interview with Chester Perkins [9/22/2003]

Joseph Skvarenia:

This is September 22nd, 2003. We're at Robert Run Village, and I have the pleasure of interviewing?

Chester Perkins:

Chet.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Chet.

Chester Perkins:

Perkins.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Perkins.

Chester Perkins:

Chester.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Chester Perkins here about his World War II experiences. (Off record while setting up microphone.)

Joseph Skvarenia:

Okay. Mr. Perkins. Tell me your birth date.

Chester Perkins:

I was born May 18, 1923.

Joseph Skvarenia:

And how old are you?

Chester Perkins:

Eighty.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Eighty. Okay. Eighty years young, right?

Chester Perkins:

Yes.

Joseph Skvarenia:

And you were in the second World War?

Chester Perkins:

Yes.

Joseph Skvarenia:

From what year to what year?

Chester Perkins:

I was in from February 6 -- or 13th, I guess. It was a week later. 1943, until September the 9th, 1948.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Boy, you were in a long time.

Chester Perkins:

Yeah. I was in over three and a half years in the army hospital at Valley Forge General Hospital.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Okay. And what was the rank -- what rank did you obtain?

Chester Perkins:

Oh, the highest rank I obtained was corporal.

Joseph Skvarenia:

And what branch of the service were you in?

Chester Perkins:

I was in the Combat Engineers, the 327th Combat Engineer Battalion of the 102nd Ozark Division, infantry division.

Joseph Skvarenia:

You eventually were going to say U.S. Army?

Chester Perkins:

Yes, U.S. Army.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Okay. Where are you from?

Chester Perkins:

Here. Indianapolis. I was born here in an area that's sort of rundown these years. Brightwood was what it was called.

Joseph Skvarenia:

What theater did you serve in during the war?

Chester Perkins:

Europe.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Europe?

Chester Perkins:

Yes.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Okay.

Chester Perkins:

I was --

Joseph Skvarenia:

Where in Europe?

Chester Perkins:

I was in -- well, we landed -- we were the first convoy to land directly in France. Cherbourg.

Joseph Skvarenia:

During D Day?

Chester Perkins:

Well, let's see. After D Day.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Okay. Cherbourg, France?

Chester Perkins:

Yes. In September of 1944.

Joseph Skvarenia:

What type of actions or battles did you participate in?

Chester Perkins:

You know, I don't know that they ever had a name. I've got a bunch of ribbons and things at home with my -- my wife has my ribbons and medals, Purple Heart, all mounted in a frame for one of my Christmas presents last year.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Okay.

Chester Perkins:

It makes a very attractive thing in our family.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Sure, it does.

Chester Perkins:

Yeah.

Joseph Skvarenia:

What unique experiences did you have that had a lasting effect on you?

Chester Perkins:

That's a little hard for me to say. I'd say the most lasting effect was the injury and the severity of my injuries.

Joseph Skvarenia:

How were you injured?

Chester Perkins:

Well, land mine explosion.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Tell me about it.

Chester Perkins:

Well, you know, I don't remember anything about it. It happened one day. They were our mines. My own platoon had laid them in the ground just 15 or 20 miles inside of Germany from Holland, the town of Heerlen, H-E-E-R-L-E-N, Holland. And we were laying mines, and during the time of the Battle of the Bulge. We were not at the Bulge, but we were very close to it.

Joseph Skvarenia:

When was the Battle of the Bulge?

Chester Perkins:

It was in, you know, last half of December, 1944 --

Joseph Skvarenia:

Okay.

Chester Perkins:

-- and over into January, and I got injured, then, on January the 10th of '45. We were laying a mine field, a large mine field. We were the only division left holding the whole Ninth Army front at that time, because other divisions had been pulled out to guard the Ninth Army front, and we were the only division to do that. So we were spread thin like -- we were using all kinds of devices to -- in case we got any -- some kind of a counter-attack through us. So we were laying mines, barbed wire entanglements, tank traps, that sort of thing. And being a combat engineer, that's the sort of the thing we did all along. So we were laying these sections, then activating them, putting two anti-tank mines, one on top of the other. That's 11 pounds of TNT in a mine. We put one on top of the other, and every tenth one, we had a little half pound charge under it to -- which could be tripped with a wire or the weight of a person stepping on the anti-tank mine. Stepping on it would not have set the anti-tank mine off, but setting it off with a half pound charge, it only took two or three pounds did set it off. And so we went, we laid -- we were laying 13 sections of this thing. It was probably more than a -- probably half to three-quarters of a mile length of mine field. And so we got 13 sections laid out, but we didn't get them activated, just two sections that day. And during that night, a four-inch snowfall came. We were mainly in a beet field, which is much of what they do in nearly all of Europe. They raise beets. And so we got two of those sections activated, and we had to go past those two sections the next morning to get to the other 11 sections to activate them, and I was drawing a sketch of the mine field for corps headquarters so that they would have a precise location to work in if they ever wanted to dig the mines up, and I presume that's what they ultimately did, picked them up by referring to that sketch, but I don't know what -- whether it got blown to bits when I got hurt or not. I remember nothing of the day that we went back into the mine field. I don't even remember going there. But my platoon sergeant got -- who was a very sharp man, and it was one of the things I would not have expected to discover later on when I did learn what happened, and he stepped on the -- got into one of these mines, and he was blown to death. And I was off 30 or 40 feet one direction or the other, but I'd say he was off this way, to my left, because the explosion came across like so, blew out this eye, socket and all, and my lower lip, blew off my nose. And so it was a -- I was unconscious for five days, and -- but after about six or eight weeks or so I was flown back to this country and ended up in Valley Forge General Hospital in March of '45 while the war was still going on. So -- and most of our guys made it through, although some got lost when we tried to build bridges across the Rur River later on in February. So I don't know. If I'd stayed, I might have gotten blown to bits on the Rur River.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Who knows, huh? How did you happen to step on your own mine, though?

Chester Perkins:

I didn't. My platoon sergeant stepped on the mine, and I was close enough to get it.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Okay.

Chester Perkins:

You know, they're in the ground. They exploded them angularly, like so. So I was just about far enough away to catch it mostly across my face and the back of this hand, and so --

Joseph Skvarenia:

What do you think he was doing? Didn't he realize --

Chester Perkins:

I have no idea. He was a very sharp individual, and I didn't -- he may -- he goofed some way, I think. But maybe I did. I wasn't there to understand what was going on. Some of my friends from that -- those days I've seen many times since. You know, described what happened. And I don't know. Maybe I could have done something to cause the damage myself. I don't know. They implied that he got on the mine, and he was blown to bits. And I have visited his grave in Margraten, Holland. Oh, in 1989 we went, some of my division went back to visit in the town of Heerlen, and I went to the cemetery there and went to his grave. His name was Sergeant Robert Schindler, and he was not a part of Schindler's List, as the movie later called. It was the same spelling, though.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Did you get a Purple Heart or anything?

Chester Perkins:

Oh, yes.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Did you?

Chester Perkins:

You know, people get Purple Hearts for the slightest of injuries in combat. I know one fellow, a dead 88 shell hit at the base of -- the foundation of a house. They ran in the basement, and it knocked -- a brick foundation. They knocked -- it knocked some bricks out, but it didn't explode. Well, one of the bricks hit him on the ankle and pretty good scar on there, but he got a Purple Heart for that. You know, so you can -- and if you die, you get a Purple Heart.

Joseph Skvarenia:

What happened after this happened to you?

Chester Perkins:

Well, I was unconscious for five days and delirious for a couple of more weeks after that, and I was in a number of field hospitals in Holland and in Belgium. Belgium, I was in a hospital there. I think when I came -- became conscious the first time I was in a --

Joseph Skvarenia:

How old were you when this happened to you?

Chester Perkins:

Twenty-one, and I was 22 in May after being injured in January of '45.

Joseph Skvarenia:

You were married before or afterwards?

Chester Perkins:

Before. During the war.

Joseph Skvarenia:

During the war?

Chester Perkins:

Yeah. I married a girl, we -- we were going together and planned to get married when I went into the Army, and when I got a chance in the Army to get home, why, we -- we were married in 1943 and will observe our 60th wedding anniversary next month, the 23rd of October.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Were you blind in both eyes because of it?

Chester Perkins:

Yes, totally. I have -- oh, maybe once in a while I -- a flashlight flashed right in my eye, I might see a momentary little flash, but there is nothing I see. I have never seen anything since that accident.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Have you worked during your lifetime?

Chester Perkins:

Oh, yes.

Joseph Skvarenia:

What have you done?

Chester Perkins:

Well, I went to college after I got out of the Army.

Joseph Skvarenia:

You're a "J" person, aren't you?

Chester Perkins:

A what?

Joseph Skvarenia:

Journalism.

Chester Perkins:

Yes. Yes, I majored in journalism at Butler University and was graduated from there in -- with honors in 1952, and I was 29 years old.

Joseph Skvarenia:

And then you worked for the American Lung Association?

Chester Perkins:

Yeah, I did. I did. I worked -- oh, I had some other minor jobs, but they were not great. Oh, they were generally related to the field of journalism. I edited a couple of community newspapers for a couple of years.

Joseph Skvarenia:

What were they?

Chester Perkins:

You know, like neighborhood throw-away type newspapers.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Which ones?

Chester Perkins:

Oh, the Southeastern Press out of the southeastern side of the city, and one was called the Beach Grove Guardian. I named it and started the editing of it for a couple of years until the guy I was working for ran out of money, or his creditors caught up with him, and --

Joseph Skvarenia:

How long were you in the hospital under treatment for this horrible thing?

Chester Perkins:

Well, from January 10, 1945, until September the 9th, 1948.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Boy, three years, huh?

Chester Perkins:

Three and a half. Over three and a half years, yeah.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Boy, oh, boy. They must have done a lot of procedures on you.

Chester Perkins:

Mostly plastic surgery.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Was it?

Chester Perkins:

Yeah. I had very limited internal injuries, and I've had good health. Good health.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Do you belong to any veterans organizations?

Chester Perkins:

Yeah, I belong to the blind -- Blind Veterans Association.

Joseph Skvarenia:

What's that?

Chester Perkins:

It's an association of veterans who were blinded in combat in World War II and Korea and Vietnam and ever since. It's headquartered in Washington, D.C. It's been a very active organization, and I'm a life member. I'm a life member also of the Disabled American Veterans. They're a very fine organization. I was a member of the Legion, the American Legion for a while, but I have not -- I did not stay active in it and dropped my membership. You can only do a certain number of things. You can't belong to everything.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Did you meet any high-profile people while you were over -- did you go to USO shows or anything like that?

Chester Perkins:

No, this was -- we saw some shows, one show down in France. I can't say who all was in that show down in France, shortly after we landed at Cherbourg. And we were encamped in an apple orchard. There are a lot of those in Normandy, and about -- I was only about a quarter to a half mile away from Sainte-Mere-Eglise. That's a church, and that's the one -- I don't know whether you've seen it happen. A paratrooper landed and got his harness caught on the spire of that church during the D Day days of the war. I don't -- I don't remember what happened to him, but he was caught up there and hanging by his harness on the spire of that little Sainte-Mere-Eglise church. I don't think I got to meet any of the people who were in the field. They were down in another apple orchard, and they entertained us. It was mostly music and dancing and that sort of thing.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Do you have much dealings with the Veterans Administration right now?

Chester Perkins:

I do. I've been to the VA hospital a good many times. I'd stay -- I stay fairly active with them. There is a --

Joseph Skvarenia:

Good.

Chester Perkins:

There is a fellow out there named Tom Grimmelsman who is -- oh, it's from a group called VISTA. It's a Veterans In Service to something or other. And he came -- he primarily deals with people who have vision impairment, and he's a good guy. He's been out there for about 20 years. There was a couple of others who preceded him, and they're -- oh, they're -- they have an organization here in town. The blind veterans have an Indiana regional group of the National Blind Veterans Association, and I'm not very active with them. Many, many years ago, I was -- back in 1949 or '50, shortly after I came home, I was president of that Indiana regional group for a year or so, but I haven't been very active in it in the last -- the last 40 years. No, forty-five.

Joseph Skvarenia:

If you were to give young people today any advice, what would it be?

Chester Perkins:

Well, are you asking something specific to -- you're speaking -- they would be seeking advice for?

Joseph Skvarenia:

I'm doing the interviewing. You just ____+

Chester Perkins:

You want me -- you want me to play it by ear?

Joseph Skvarenia:

I do.

Chester Perkins:

Okay.

Joseph Skvarenia:

I'm the journalist here today.

Chester Perkins:

Okay. Okay. I've been retired since 19 -- oh, for the last 23 years.

Joseph Skvarenia:

I belong to the Press Club.

Chester Perkins:

Do you?

Joseph Skvarenia:

Yeah.

Chester Perkins:

I do too. I do too. I don't go there often, but I --

Joseph Skvarenia:

I don't go there hardly at all, but I've got professional credentials there.

Chester Perkins:

Good. Well, I have too.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Go ahead and finish this.

Chester Perkins:

All right. Advice. I don't know what to advise young people. I would advise all of them to learn more than they know or seem to know about the progression of world activities which led up to the fighting of World War II.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Why do you say that?

Chester Perkins:

Because I don't find many people who know very much about it among young people. I don't think the schools teach very much about World War II. I think it probably is given about three or four paragraphs in history books and not -- not spelled out to any degree. You know, it was a huge, huge war on two major fronts. And actually, if you took it in total, why, you'd have to say several other fronts because the Russians fought on the -- you know, there was a Russian front, which we didn't get involved in at all, and that aspect, most young people don't know much at all about. Hitler invading Russia, which was the biggest mistake he made in the whole war, I think. I guess his biggest mistake was invading Poland and the Sudatanland and Czechoslovakia. But I would encourage them to learn as much as they could about World War II. I think it's probably -- we have seen probably the last big war in our lifetime, I think, and maybe for many generations. There is so much -- there is so much technical equipment and systems to fight wars with where people don't have to stand up opposite each other and shoot at each other. That is not a likely thing. It's going to be, I hope, not nuclear, but I fear that some fool is going to instigate some kind of a nuclear holocaust. I think so. Down the line. We've been very lucky. We're lucky that the United States was the first one to use the -- to invent and to use the atomic bomb. And we did it, and I think it was the right thing to do and the right time to do it. I think President Truman made a wise decision on that.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Speaking of that, what would you -- have you any comments about Franklin Delano Roosevelt's handling of the war?

Chester Perkins:

No, not about his handling of the war. I didn't like him as a president.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Why?

Chester Perkins:

Well, it's a political point of view.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Okay.

Chester Perkins:

I'm a -- I was born -- I was a Republican, I think, in my mother's womb, and I was from a large family, and we had the Depression, and we were very poor. And that's something else I'd like to see young people learn something about, the kind of poverty that their parents and grandparents, especially their grandparents and great grandparents endured in the 1930s. That was an awful thing. And I was one of eight children. But my father and mother, they were staunchly Republican and very anti-Roosevelt. So I got a chance to vote one time --

Joseph Skvarenia:

Who did you vote for?

Chester Perkins:

-- when I was overseas. And I got to cast one vote against FDR.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Who did you vote for?

Chester Perkins:

I voted for Dewey. He was the candidate in the fall election of 1944, and I had an absentee ballot.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Did a lot of your fellow soldiers vote for Dewey, do you know?

Chester Perkins:

I don't know. We seldom in the Army talked politics. I heard a lot of it at home. That's why I had some attitudes about it.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Yeah. Do you have anything else you want to add to this tape?

Chester Perkins:

No, not especially.

Joseph Skvarenia:

All right. Thank you for your time, Chet.

Chester Perkins:

Okay.

Joseph Skvarenia:

And we'll send this interview to the Library of Congress as soon as you get that form back.

Chester Perkins:

Okay. I, of course, didn't get into the hospitalization and the many, many, many blind persons that were on the wards at Valley Forge Hospital, and I had right at -- close to 50 surgeries at Valley Forge, and I've had probably 25 since at varying times. I was just -- I had my most recent one this past spring at the same vets hospital. I had a hip replacement for a replacement. The one hip replacement, I broke it, and they never could -- it never -- I never could walk on it, and now I can walk a little. I'm still using a walker, but I'll be walking with just a cane one of these days. I walk in the house on -- a good deal of the time on cane with my wife generally going alongside me, but most of the time I use a walker. And sometimes I -- when I go to the hospital at Valley -- at the Veterans Administration, I go in a wheelchair. That's the way -- they provide me transportation that way. They provided me with the wheelchair as well.

Unidentified Speaker:

Did you have a leg injury, Chet? I remember seeing a plate or something in your leg.

Chester Perkins:

Well, I've got a hip replacement in my hip. Oh, I've got a little -- I broke this ankle once.

Unidentified Speaker:

Oh, I see.

Chester Perkins:

There is a little metal strap on the --

Unidentified Speaker:

Yeah. Okay.

Chester Perkins:

-- outer bone. What's that? The tibia? The little bone on the outside of your ankle. I broke it, and it's got a metal strap holding that together.

Joseph Skvarenia:

You know, I've got to ask you. Princess Diana, one of her biggest charities was to stop the laying of land mines.

Chester Perkins:

I know it.

Joseph Skvarenia:

What do you think about that?

Chester Perkins:

I think it was very good. What we needed to do most of all was to, if we were going to use instruments of war, and I can see why people would, make a record of where you put them so that you can go back and with a compass find a marker which will tell you where the corner of the field is, and you can go through -- and all these mine fields are laid in standard patterns. They're not just -- not just thrown out there willy-nilly. They're laid in certain patterns, in certain number of rows, and you can mark on the map, which is what I was doing, as I indicated earlier, at the time I got hurt. So somebody from headquarters could provide those drawings for anyone who came along to take up those mine fields. They could do it without losing a person. So I don't know what became of that mine field. I was back there with my wife and some people from my division in the same -- right next to the same town where we were staying at the time we laid this mine field. It was a town called Ederin, E-D-E-R-I-N, Germany. And it was about, oh, two miles away from another town closer to the Rur River named Welz, W-E-L-Z. And we were in the Ninth Army, and we laid these mine fields in between those two towns. And I forget my thought that I was trying to make. Can you help me there? What I started to try and tell you -- and I can do this once in a while. I get off base.

Joseph Skvarenia:

That's all right. Don't worry about it.

Chester Perkins:

Oh, we went back in 1989 to Heerlen, our division, about 250 or 300 of us, went back there for the 45th anniversary of the liberation of the city of Heerlen. It was a town of about 80 to 100,000 people, and they were wonderful to us here 45 years after.

Joseph Skvarenia:

This is in Holland?

Chester Perkins:

Yes. And they had a parade, and they had tables that if they were all stretched out in a single line would have been a mile long. Food all over the place. And I got to ride in a wheelchair right down the street to the -- what they call the -- oh, the burger -- burgermeister, kind of like a mayor of the -- of Heerlen. And they had brought by runner up from Normandy some of the fire from a candle that was burning here -- not a candle but some constantly burning thing, and they brought it up to Holland, and they lit that again up in Holland, and I got to help light that for that occasion. So it was kind of fun. We were one of the liberating units there at Heerlen. So Dutch people were very nice. I wouldn't take a lot of money for the experiences that I've had as a result of the severe injury I got. I've learned a lot of things. And I wish I could see. I don't -- but I don't fret about it. It's been 58 and a half years that I haven't seen. And I've gotten along pretty well. Gone through college. Enjoyed that much. Helped establish my fraternity chapter there, and --

Joseph Skvarenia:

Which was?

Chester Perkins:

TKE. Tau Kappa Epsilon. They're at 715 West Hampton Drive on the Butler campus.

Unidentified Speaker:

You took French, and they told you you'd never make it, didn't they?

Chester Perkins:

Well, the teacher, the professor, she told me, "Well," she says, "I don't think you'll" -- the first day she says, "I don't think you'll be able to understand. It's not spelled like it's pronounced, and it's not pronounced like it's spelled." And she says, "I think you will have a very difficult time." I said, "Well, let's try it." And I ended up with two semesters of A in the course. I only took two semesters, a year, of French, but I still remember some of it. My wife took some later on. My daughter majored in French, and for quite a long while, at Indiana University.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Are you a Disciple?

Chester Perkins:

Yes.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Where do you go to church at?

Chester Perkins:

Third Christian, with him.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Okay. You guys just sold that property, didn't you?

Chester Perkins:

It will be sold by probably March.

Unidentified Speaker:

It's under contract.

Chester Perkins:

It's under contract now.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Wal-Mart or K-Mart?

Unidentified Speaker:

Wal-Mart.

Chester Perkins:

Wal-Mart.

Joseph Skvarenia:

Okay. Thank you for the interview.

Chester Perkins:

Thank you.

 
Home » Text Transcript
  The Library of Congress  >> American Folklife Center
  October 26, 2011
  Legal | External Link Disclaimer Need Help?   
Contact Us